From big-budget, open-world games to retro 2D platformers, 2018 was another great year for videogames. Sony had an exceptional year, with its worldwide studios launching a string of blockbusters for the PS4; Rockstar released its first game designed specifically for this console generation; and a handful of games started to bring the potential of virtual reality to life. Here are the titles that stood out for us this year.
Based on the same template as the Arkham Batman games and the Infamous series, Insomniac’s open-world game is a celebration of one of Marvel’s best-loved superheroes. It’s a joy to play, nailing Spidey’s web-slinging, wisecracking essence with its dextrous, rapid-fire combat and acrobatic city traversal. The story is pure fan-service, offering confrontations with iconic Spider-Man villains as well as quieter moments that explore Peter Parker’s life when he isn’t wearing the costume. PlayStation 4
IO Interactive’s sequel to Hitman 2016 is a murderous sandbox game with gallows humour, dense level design and a liberal portion of content. Its open-ended gameplay offers plenty of replayability through the sheer number of devious options it offers for pulling off the perfect assassination. This is one of Agent 47’s best outings to date, offering up more of the taut stealth, emergent gameplay and exotic locales that the franchise’s fans love. Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Into the Breach
Into the Breach is not much to look at, but the simple presentation masks an absorbing turn-based strategy game in the mould of the Advance Wars and XCOM titles. The indie game pits huge robots against giant alien invaders in challenging skirmishes where the odds are tipped against the player. Randomised maps and an interesting selection of tactical options keep each new battle and campaign feeling fresh. Into the Breach is ruthless, focused and satisfying, offering bite-sized gameplay that is particularly well suited to the Nintendo Switch. macOS, Windows, Nintendo Switch (Linux release to follow)
Return of the Obra Dinn
Lucas Pope, the designer of the critically acclaimed Papers, Please returns with another thought-provoking title. Return of the Obra Dinn casts in the player in the role of a 19th century shipping company agent determined to uncover the secrets of a ship whose crew and passengers have all mysteriously died. Part first-person exploration game, part logic puzzler, Return of the Obra Dinn tells a haunting story as it puts your deductive reasoning abilities to the test. The simple monochrome graphics and surreal moments imbue the murder mystery with a unique atmosphere. macOS, Windows
On paper, Dead Cells sounds like peak indie, combining the ability progression and exploration of a Metroidvania with the procedurally generated levels and learn, die, repeat loop of a roguelike. But its tight gameplay systems, tactical combat, gorgeous presentation and rewarding challenge curve congeal into something truly special. Linux, macOS, Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission
Astro Bot is arguably the best title for the PlayStation VR headset and a fantastic game in its own right. It’s at once a nostalgic tribute to the golden age of 3D mascot platform games and a reinvention of the genre for the current generation. As the player, you’re immersed in the game world alongside an Astro Bot who is seeking to rescue his comrades from aliens. The game uses VR to offer a different perspective on the traditional platformer, twisting familiar level design conventions and mechanics into beguiling new shapes. PlayStation 4
Lumines and Rez director Tetsuya Mizuguchi gives the ageless puzzle game a hypnotic makeover for the PS4. It stays true to the fiendish nature of classic Tetris, while bringing it up to speed with the current console generation through the addition of new modes, mesmerising visuals, trippy music and optional VR support. It’s a sensory treat, with the VR mode adding new layers of immersion to the frantic gameplay. PlayStation 4
Forza Horizon 4
Developer Playground has turned Forza Horizon into Microsoft’s most consistent franchise. The latest iteration of the open-world arcade racer is a further refinement of the formula, offering plenty to do and drive, solid racing mechanics and new twists such as a dynamic seasonal weather system. The country lanes, quaint villages, winding mountain roads and crumbling ruins of the mostly rural British setting are beautifully realised. Windows, Xbox One
Red Dead Redemption 2
Eight years in the making, Rockstar’s first game designed for the current console generation sets the gold standard for open-world games in its attention to detail and level of technical accomplishment. The epic single-player campaign — clocking in at 60 hours — meanders a bit, but ultimately tells an affecting tale of outlaws struggling to find a place in the world as technology and progress tame the wildernesses of the old West.
Channelling the melancholy of McCabe & Mrs Miller and the picaresque elements of Little Big Man as much as it does Sam Peckinpah’s blood ballets or Sergio Leone’s tense shootouts, the story is populated by a memorable crew of noble outlaws, ne’er-do-wells, varmints and corrupt lawmen. This action unfolds in a massive, obsessively detailed game world packed with interesting side activities and cool emergent moments. One highlight is the outlaws’ camp, one of the most vibrant and convincing “home bases” I’ve ever experienced in a game. PlayStation 4, Xbox One
God of War
God of War 2018 is a triumphant return to the series for Cory Barlog, the director of 2007’s God of War II. The stranger-in-a-strange-land game uproots Kratos from his home in ancient Greece and transplants him into the world of Norse mythology. Having slaughtered pretty much the entire Greek pantheon in the previous games, Kratos has retired from the god-murdering business to live quietly in the woods of Midgard with his wife and child.
Following the death of his spouse, Kratos takes the boy, Atreus, on an epic journey to disperse her ashes at the highest peak of the nine realms. The premise of a gruff antihero finding redemption through fatherhood has echoes of The Last of Us, but sharp writing and excellent voice performances give the game a strong emotional core. Stargate SG-1 actor Christopher Judge replaces Terrence C Carson in the role of Kratos, transforming the shouty Spartan from an avatar of rage into a figure of stoic suffering.
But the real revelation comes from the near-complete reinvention of the gameplay, with strong roleplaying elements and a robust combat engine centred on a mighty new weapon called the Leviathan Axe and Atreus’s magical powers. The game also shifts from a fixed cinematic camera to a third-person, over the-shoulder camera. In an incredible technical feat, the entire game is presented as a single continuous shot with no camera cuts or loading screens.
The main storyline is fantastic, but God of War also sets a new bar in terms of the sheer quality of the optional content. Unlike the linear progression of the earlier games, it offers a Zelda-like hub-and-dungeon structure that gives the player the ability to return to key locations to complete side quests, fight discretionary bosses, visit hidden game realms and uncover secrets. PlayStation 4
Games also worth a mention
Ashen: A Dark Souls-influenced action roleplaying game that stands out for its distinctive art style, punishing combat encounters, and unique cooperative gameplay. Windows, Xbox One
Beat Saber: A rhythm game that uses VR to suck you into a swirl of pulsating patterns and intense beats. Windows, PlayStation 4
Celeste: One of the best in its genre since Super Meat Boy, Celeste is a gruelling 2D platforming game with precise controls, excellent level design and charming music and visuals. Linux, macOS, Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
GRIS: With a cryptic story and minimalist gameplay, this brief but beautiful puzzle-platformer is one of the most visually arresting and relaxing gaming experiences of the year. macOS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch
Iconoclasts: A cheerful retro 2D game with an affable sense of humour, slick action and tight platforming. Linux, macOS, Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Monster Hunter World: Brimming over with content, boasting amazing monsters and combat, and featuring an addictive gameplay loop, the latest entry in Capcom’s action roleplaying franchise perfects the formula. Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire: Obsidian Entertainment’s sequel to Pillars of Eternity is a rousing old-school computer roleplaying game with a rich game world to explore, engrossing quests and an engaging combat system. Linux, macOS, Windows (console versions to follow in 2019)
Super Smash Bros Ultimate: Made with Nintendo’s characteristic love and attention to detail, this is a generous fighting game with a big roster of characters, deep but accessible gameplay, and a healthy slice of nostalgia. Nintendo Switch
Yoku’s Island Express: A fresh and playful blend of Metroidvania-style exploration and pinball, Yoku’s Island Express is an unexpected delight. Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One — (c) 2018 NewsCentral Media